China Leads as U.S. Falls Behind in Global Smart Grid Investment

by Joshua S Hill

According to new figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), global smart grid investment grew to $14.9 billion in 2013, up from $14.2 billion in 2012, and being led by China, who finished the year as the world’s largest smart grid market.

Renewable Energy. The Smart Grid. Image courtesy of Hitachi.
Renewable Energy. The Smart Grid. Image courtesy of Hitachi.

China’s place at the top comes at the expense of the United States, as the North American market continued to slow and China dollar investment into their smart grid exceeded that of the US, thanks in part to the installation of 62 million smart meters, a market which accounted for just under half of the total smart grid spending worldwide.

China’s investiture into smart grid technology amounted to $4.3 billion during 2013, with a large share going towards the installation of smart meters, bringing their national total up to 250 million. However, the country has indicated that it is aiming to extend the end-date for completing its metering program from 2015 to 2017.

On the flipside, US smart grid spending slowed during 2013, as the North American market shrunk 33% to $3.6 billion during 2013, thanks in part to the conclusion of US stimulus-funded projects.

Global investment in the smart grid increased relatively modestly last year after five years of rapid growth. But the fundamental drivers of the smart grid – greater grid reliability, further integration of renewable energy, and improved demand-side management – are stronger than ever.

Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available. — Colin McKerracher, senior energy-smart technologies analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance

China and the US aren’t the only markets when it comes to smart metering, but they are the largest. Bloomberg noticed several “promising signs” during 2013 for the European market, including a large metering contract in the UK, a new tender in France, and the completion of the long-awaited cost benefit analysis in Germany.

Elsewhere, Japan’s utilities are currently in the tendering and procurement stage of their smart meter deployment, while in South America, Brazil’s smart meter deployment has been delayed due to certification and financing challenges.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance sees the following developments in 2014 and beyond:

  • Asia still has years of growth ahead. Despite China’s recently announced slowdown in meter installation, China’s 5-10 year meter replacement cycle means that as this major wave of installations finishes in 2017, the first wave of replacements is expected to commence. 2014-15 will bring also an increase in distribution automation spending in China while smart grid activity in Japan, Korea, India and South East Asia will also ramp up.
  • The US is entering a second major smart grid phase: information integration. With its growing penetration rates for smart meters and distribution automation, the next phase for the US smart grid is using the new data coming in off the grid to improve areas like outage management, customer segmentation and theft detection.
  • Europe is the smart grid’s sleeping giant. Europe has installed only 55m smart meters but this is expected to rise sharply to 180m by 2020. Spain will remain as the most active market in 2014 but large-scale deployments in the UK, Germany and France will begin to ramp up in late 2015.

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This article, Global Smart Grid Investment Grows, China Leads, US Falls Behind, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Joshua S Hill.Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

Europe Exits Fossil Fuel, will hit 30% Renewables by 2017

by Zachary Shahan

Following up on a Credit Suisse report stating that ~85% of US energy demand growth would come from renewables by 2025, we thought it would be good to take a look at the energy trends in Europe as well.

Actually, one of our readers pitched this idea prior to the publishing of that article, and did most of the research for this piece. I then had the pleasure of putting it together to create the primarily positive (with one notable hiccup) non-fiction story below. Enjoy!

Let’s start with the broad overview. UBS analysts in 2013 reported that utilities in Europe need to shut down 30% of their gas, coal, and oil-fed power capacity by 2017 — not necessarily to fight global warming, cut pollution, or cut fuel imports, but because the renewable energy revolution is pushing fossil fuels off the grid.

In other words, increasingly cheap and fast-growing renewables are killing fossil fuels in Europe

“Producers must close 49 gigawatts of capacity to stabilize profits at 2012 levels, analysts led by Paris-based Per Lekander wrote in an e-mailed report,” according to Rachel Morison of Bloomberg.

“That includes 24 gigawatts of ‘mainly cashflow positive capacity’ on top of the 7 gigawatts that utilities already plan to shut and an additional 18 gigawatts of closures expected to be announced.”

“The most important driver has undoubtedly been the remarkable increase of renewable capacity, and in particular solar, mainly in Germany,” Per Lekander said.

Image Credit: Nuclear Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, via @SamHamels
Image Credit: Nuclear Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, via @SamHamels

Unfortunately, the most closures are projected to be of natural gas power plants. Coal power’s big exit is projected to get rolling in 2015.

However, that’s not to say no coal power plants are being closed or kept off the grid until 2015. Back in August 2013, it was announced that a coal power plant in Finland would shut down due to its failing competitiveness.

“Finland’s largest utility, Fortum, is closing a coal-fired power plant in Inkoo, west of Helsinki,” yle wrote.

“Built in the mid-1970s, the 750 MW plant has rarely been used in recent years, only supplying backup power to the Nordic grid during periods of peak demand. It has long been a loss-maker. This is partly due to falling electricity prices in Europe, driven by Germany’s shift toward renewable energy.”

The Finnish government, in the meantime, has committed itself to transitioning to a clean, renewable energy future — only logical, right?

And in the center of much of the clean energy revolution, Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years.

In Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years, with others 'walking the plank'.
In Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years, with others ‘walking the plank’.

It’s true that coal power production increased in Germany in 2012, but you have to put that into some context to understand why. What many people don’t know is that many coal power plants were previously planned for Germany.

The renewable energy revolution hasn’t increased the need for coal power plants, as many misinformers would have you believe, but has resulted in the majority being dropped. Closing of nuclear power plants, combined with high natural gas prices in Europe, however, did result in a slight rise in coal power production.

Natural gas is clearly the fossil fuel getting hit hardest in Europe at the moment. As Tino Andresen and Tara Patel of Bloomberg wrote in March 2013.

“Three years ago, Germany’s largest utility spent 400 million euros ($523 million) building a natural gas-fired power station. Later this month, the company may close the plant because it’s losing so much money.”

EON’s Irsching-5, the power plant in discussion, only operated 25% of the time in 2012!

The factors for the quick death of such an expensive plant were varied, though: “As Europe’s weak economy holds back electricity demand, cheaper coal, requirements to buy renewable energy and the collapsing cost of carbon permits are undercutting gas-fired plants.”

But it’s not only happening in Germany

“Gas-fired plants are stopped three days out of four,” Gerard Mestrallet, chief executive officer of GDF Suez, France’s former gas monopoly, said at a briefing on Feb. 28.

“The thermal industry is in crisis. There is overcapacity.”

The story is essentially the same in the Netherlands, Spain, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.

In the end, the story is actually rather simple: as more renewable energy comes on line, something has to go off line.

Aside from nuclear power plants that are being shuttered due to old age and citizen demand, the big loser at the moment is natural gas. However, coal is on its way out too, just a bit more slowly. Of course, if there was a higher price on carbon, or other fossil fuel market dynamics changed, we could see those two switch places on their way out the door.

Anything more you’d like to add? Chime in below.

Keep up to date with the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our main cleantech newsletter, or by stalking our homepage. We’re not Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed, but I think we’re more interesting.

This article, Europe’s Fossil Fuel Exit — 30% Of Fossil Fuel Power Capacity To Close By 2017, UBS Analysts Project, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

Massive Bike-Share boom happening worldwide (graphs)

by Nathan.

The past fifteen years have seen a massive boom in the number of bike-share programs around the world — an exponential increase that looks likely to continue into the immediately foreseeable future.

Talking about this boom is just one thing, though; visualizing it is another, and that’s where these new graphs (pictured below) from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) come in handy — they really help to drive the point home.

Growth of Bike-Share systems worldwide Jan, 2000 - July, 2013.
Growth of Bike-Share systems worldwide from Jan, 2000 – July, 2013.

TreeHugger provides more:

Last week, Lloyd wrote about a great bike share guide. In the video about it, a couple of slides about bike sharing are shown, and I think they deserve a standalone article. The first one, above, shows the tipping point that was reached a few years ago, and the massive growth since then. At a scale that shows the recent increase in number of bikes in bike shares, the previous growth basically looks like a flat line. That’s how different the past few years have been!

A catalyst has been the launch of Velo’v and Vélib in France, but new bike shares have popped up all over and the number of stations and bikes has steadily climbed, which has helped increase usage, as the chart below shows. There definitely seems to be a correlation between how many bikes are available and the number of trips, which makes sense. It’s all about convenience: Can you find a bike when you need one? Can you drop it off at a station close to where you’re going? Do you see many other bikes from the bike share riding around the city (creating social proof)? All these help keep the boom going (for example, bike-sharing in the US expected to reach 37,000 bikes in 2014 (4x more than in 2012!)).

Bike-Share market penetration continues to prove a successful model.
Bike-Share market penetration continues to prove a successful model.

With the factors behind the bike-share boom now detailed, there’s only one thing that remains to be said be said: MAKE USE OF THEM.

Image Credit: FHA/Screen capture

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This article, Worldwide Bike-Share Boom Visualized In New Graphs, is syndicated from Planetsave and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

NathanNathan For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19

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JOBS: The Key to Capitalism’s Success

by John Brian Shannon

As we all know, several political/economic models are in use in the early 21st century. A little refresher for you first, if your high-school political science classes didn’t especially thrill you.

The capitalist system employed by the Western nations and some other nations, is often referred to as the Free Enterprise system, the Free Market system, Wealth Accumulation, Capital Accumulation or the Open Economic model – depending on the context of a conversation. Politics can vary within capitalist systems – which are often a variant of democracy (civil rights enshrined in a constitution, the right to vote, rights to property and person and freedom of expression) form part of this model. Socialist parties represent the “left wing” and conservative “right-wing” parties are represented along with independent candidates as elected by the registered voters.

In the capitalist system, greed is the primary agent of economic change. If you want to eat, you work for money to buy your food. If you would rather drive to work than walk, you work for money to buy a car and insurance. An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time. Western corporations and governments operate in a similar fashion.

So, why isn’t it working?

“It IS working!” wealthy Western individuals emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western corporations emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western governments emphatically state.

And in those cases, it most emphatically IS working!

But the rest of us are not. Working, that is. You know… jobs, working, making a living, paying the bills, making the rent… and all the rest of it.

You will recall my words from a previous paragraph; “An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time.”

All good there. Except what happens in the capitalist system when there aren’t enough jobs?

The short answer is; A failed economic system. Ever more wealth becomes concentrated in a ever smaller percentage of the general population. You guessed it — 1% of the Western population will always agree that the Open Economic system works well for them.

For Western nations it is death by a thousand cuts and only in the interests of economic survival will our present system evolve into something very unlike the present model and it may take as long as 50 years to do so.

Let me back up a bit.

I promised you a political science refresher and here is the other half of it. The Communist system, sometimes called the Statist model, the Centralized Economic model, or the Closed Economic model, does not employ greed as the primary driver of human activity. Profit, either at the individual or corporate level is unknown and all economic activity is considered the property of the state. The only things that really matter to a communist is the national GDP and the sovereignty of the country. Of course, civil rights and personal freedoms are enshrined in the constitutions of communist countries – although at the end of the day personal rights can be and often are subjugated in the best interests of the state.

For one example of this, in the former USSR alcoholism rates were astonishingly high. But this was never reported in the Soviet media as it was thought that publicizing this knowledge would emotionally depress workers across the nation – and thereby suppress economic output. Therefore and officially, in the former USSR there was no alcoholism – and hence, the government-owned hospitals failed to devise a treatment for a disease which only occurred in the decadent West! If a citizen of the former USSR arrived at a hospital or doctor’s office for treatment of his alcoholism, he was told that he suffered from “an imaginary disease” and was counseled to stop “trying to get attention” by emulating Western behaviors. And no doubt put on some sort of watch list for good measure.

Eventually the former USSR collapsed mainly due to internal forces. However, some communist nations remain and are thriving. China has surpassed India, France, the UK, Germany, Japan and every other country except for the United States in GDP and accumulated wealth – and has done so by employing the statist economic model. According to most economics Professors, China will surpass the United States GDP by 2040. That’s 28 years from now in case you are a Chinese economist counting the days.

The main reason for the dramatic growth-driven economic performance in China is that many Western corporations have chosen to do business in China rather than the West – due to lower land and construction costs, lower labour rates, the lower costs associated with a relaxed or non-existent regulatory environment (depending on the industry and region of the country) and other cost-lowering factors associated with operating a business in China.

Beginning about 1999, U.S. corporations especially, have embraced the opportunity to lower their costs by closing their North American factories and building brand-new factories in China – sometimes with significant communist Chinese government assistance! Other western corporations too, have been closing our factories by the thousands in America and Europe and relocating their manufacturing operations to China – and on account of this economic activity, the Western economies combined are at present, 150 million jobs short of full employment. This trend of creating jobs in communist China whilst simultaneously creating higher unemployment in the Western democracies will continue as long as Western voters don’t complain too much.

By 2030, the Western democracies will be much-weakened in comparison to a still-booming China and the other Asian nations. At that time, Asia will be supplying almost all the manufactured goods for the Western economies which will by then, have lost 300 million jobs to Asia.

Also by 2030, perhaps as many as 700 million Westerners will be retired persons receiving some form of Social Security – while millions of younger people won’t be old enough to join the workforce. It will be a time when less than half of the West’s population will be employed and able to support the Western economies. From the Western point of view, this trend gets worse until 2060 when economic performance is expected to plateau in Asia.

A paradigm-shift has been taking place right under our Western noses for three decades now and we have just now begun to notice. China will soon be the dominant world power – and we handed it to them in exchange for higher profits for Western corporations.

It’s said; “He who has the gold makes the rules” – and it is shaping up to be a very different world indeed.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Greek and French Voters Overturn Austerity

By John Brian Shannon

Greek and French voters have overturned austerity in Europe, but voters have really overturned a change to sustainable economic policies.

The structural changes there have caused some level of financial problems for individuals and families.

But the alternative was to let the outrageous, drunken-sailor spending continue until there was nothing left of the economies in question. Eventually that would have caused a real pan-European depression  – instead of five years of austerity in only those countries foolish enough to have overspent themselves for decades.

It is the obscene deficits which have run year after year (and have piled up into unaffordable debt) that are responsible for the lowered credit ratings in those countries and the poor economic performances found only in those particular European countries, it must be said. I note that the rest of Europe is doing quite well – even accounting for the combined drag and multi-billion euro bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Blaming austerity, is like blaming the doctor who is now fixing your broken arm for the original accident — as you drunkenly stumbled out of the casino! The Greek economy was a basket-case long before austerity ever arrived and it will be a basket-case now that austerity is leaving Greece.

Greek and French citizens have voted for the former glory days of unrestrained spending with lots of toys and goodies from their governments – and to hell with paying for it!

“Let the EU bail us out forever, for tonight, we drink like drunken sailors!” And, if you think that isn’t being hollered at full volume at many thousands of cantina’s and spilling out on to the streets of Greece tonight, you’ve never been there!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@JBSCanada